An Unusual Short Story from Cumbrian based fiction writer Nisha P Postlethwaite about a Man Who Could See Through Skin and how it changed the way he saw the world
Just a Man?
He sat within the whispering grasses by the ragged edge of the lake, crouched down as if wounded, out of sight but not hiding - not in the way that he hid from life. He watched the water - not blue, green or grey but a translucent union of all three - wash over the smooth stones and complete the gaps, before sliding back across the long stretch. It was an effortless retreat.
If only he could glide through life. Instead it was volatile and fractured. He climbed the peaks and sank with the lows, but lately the lows had come more often until they flowed into a continuous bottom-line.
No-one knew what he could do. Not really. He had tried to speak of it, perhaps so cryptically, no-one understand what he meant. How could he explain, really?
How could he say that just by brushing against any of them, he could see right through their skin - across organs, down veins, between layers of tissue, over private thoughts, hopes and intentions – even those not fully realised by their holders. Perhaps he had not explained it clearly at all, but he didn’t want them thinking he was unhinged or a freak.
Among people he felt like an intruder trampling on secrets and tarnishing dreams as he tread on their souls. In time, it became harder for him to look anyone in the eye in case they saw his growing shame. He was tired of watching everything he said in case he gave something - not his right to give - away.
So he decided to avoid human contact as much as possible, never shaking a hand, touching the edge of a crowd, offering a kiss, or embracing the ones he longed to hold. This lack of human touch only made him withdraw deeper into himself but what choice did he have?
He concluded everything human was mapped along lines, it was obvious, over-thought and calculated, but nature had secrets he couldn't permeate, such as how rivers carved up the land or how buds and leaves reached for the sky and unfolded before his eyes. He only felt true wonder when sat in nature.
Why couldn’t she accept that? Why couldn’t she understand? Instead, she said she couldn’t condone his apathy for others, his numbness to life, lack of warmth and connection; it was as simple as that to her. She started to cry when she said she longed to reach him and pull him out of the darkness, but she didn’t know how to. So it had to end.
Tears rolled over his cheeks and burnt his skin. The fragile walls of his world came crashing down as he always knew they would. She whispered to him to let it go - whatever it was that consumed him. She reached for him, he flinched, but she still took him in her arms. Her warmth made him delirious, and his legs buckled with the weight of his sorrow.
Still, he didn’t hug her back, or try to explain. He thought she whispered something else, but the words lodged in her throat. As she left, he knew he would never see her again.
He felt crippled in the grasses but he took solace in the gentle movement of the water. His mind flitted back. How could he have told her what he felt through her skin? How could he say inside her was something else, slowly unfurling and diligently forming - part-her and part-him? How could he say there was another poor soul that could see through his mother’s skin?